Fun Facts about the U.S. Vice Presidency
United States Vice Presidents have often struggled for recognition and relevance. Numerous presidential administrations have made little use of them. Vice presidents did not attend cabinet meetings or have White House offices for many years. The position has a long tradition of being stupefying and frustrating. Here are some quotes from people who either served as vice president or were offered the position:
“My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” – John Adams (vice president under George Washington)
"Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea and the other was elected Vice President of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again." – Thomas R. Marshall (vice president under Woodrow Wilson)
“I do not wish to be buried until I am really dead.” Daniel Webster, turning down an offer from William Henry Harrison to be his running mate (ironically, Harrison died after a month in office, which would have made Webster president)
“(The vice presidency) is not worth a bucket of warm spit” - John Nance Garner (vice president under Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
The job of the vice president is to go to weddings and funerals” – Harry Truman (vice president under Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
Some Facts and Figures about the U.S. Vice Presidency
-There have been a total of 47 vice presidents in U.S. history, from the first, John Adams, to the forty-seventh, Joe Biden.
-The oldest person to become vice president was 71 year old Alben Barkley. The youngest was John Breckenridge, who became vice president at the ripe old age of 36.
-Vice presidents and their families live in Number One Observatory Circle, located in the United States Naval Observatory in Washington DC. It has been the official vice presidential residence since the 1970’s. Before that, VP’s simply lived in privately purchased homes.
-Two vice presidents have served under multiple administrations. The first, George Clinton (no relation to Bill), served under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The second, John Calhoun, was vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.
-No incumbent vice president has ever been assassinated, but seven have died in office from natural causes. These unfortunate VP’s were George Clinton (Jefferson/Madison), Elbridge Gerry (Madison), William Rufus King (Pierce), Henry Wilson (Grant), Thomas Hendricks (Cleveland), Garret Hobart (McKinley), and James Sherman (Taft). Also, two vice presidents resigned from office due to scandal – John Calhoun and Spiro Agnew.
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt had three vice presidents (John Nance Garner, Henry Wallace, and Harry Truman) during his long tenure in the White House. No one else has had more than two.
-Fourteen vice presidents have become president. Eight of them ascended to the presidency upon the death of their predecessor. They were John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester A. Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson. Of this group, four were later elected president in their own right (Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, Johnson). Five other vice presidents were also later elected president – John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Van Buren, Richard Nixon, and George HW Bush. Finally, Gerald Ford became president because of the resignation of his predecessor, Nixon.
-Unlike the presidency, there is no constitutional limit to how many terms a person can serve as vice president. The 22nd amendment prohibits twice elected presidents from running for a third term, but could they run for vice president? If so, could they become president again if there was a vacancy? The answers to these questions have been debated by scholars. The controversy would likely have to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court if any two-term president made the decision to seek the vice presidency. This seems extremely unlikely to occur, so this possible loophole in the two term presidential limit will likely remain a point of conjecture.
A Vice President’s Legacy
Many vice presidents accomplished little during their terms. This was often because their presidents deliberately excluded them from important decision-making processes. In recent years, however, these overlooked figures have often found a place in their president’s inner circle. Dick Cheney, the vice president under George W Bush, was an extraordinarily powerful VP who often made autonomous decisions without Bush’s direct input. Although Joe Biden does not have this level of authority, President Obama has made him an important member of his inner circle. These developments should give hope to future running mates. Many of them will likely be failed president candidates themselves, but the modern vice presidency is a decent consolation prize. It will be interesting to see how this much maligned political office develops in the future.
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- Vice President Joe Biden | The White House